What has faith to do with entrepreneurship?
A version of this article originally appeared in the spring 2023 issue of STILLPOINT magazine by Dr. Jeffrey Stevenson, director of the center for entrepreneurial leadership, director of the Kenneth L. Pike honors program and associate professor of Spanish.
God, the original entrepreneur, engaged in six days of creative activity followed by one day of rest—intrinsically connecting the Christian faith and entrepreneurship from the very beginning. If, as Scripture suggests, we are uniquely created in the image of God, then it follows that, like God, it is in our DNA to create new things given the raw materials of the preexisting created order. In so doing, we become co-creators with God, engaging in entrepreneurial activity that results in something new, something “good and very good.”
Due to the Fall, though, it is entirely possible to engage in entrepreneurial activity primarily motivated by self-interest and self-fulfillment, with the goal of making a name for ourselves. True entrepreneurship as envisioned in Scripture compels the Christian entrepreneur to engage in entrepreneurial activity not for self-aggrandizement, but as the practical outworking of the Great Commandment, “to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
The Christian doctrine of vocation since the Reformation teaches us that we love and serve our neighbors through the faithful exercise of the time, talents, resources and relationships God entrusts to us. Therefore, the Christian entrepreneur understands their role in the process of creating and managing new businesses, profit or nonprofit, as a stewardship for which they will one day give an account (2 Cor 5:10). In this context, the work of the Christian entrepreneur engaged Monday to Friday (and sometimes Saturday) in the creation of a new businesses that adds real value to people’s lives, that provides people with meaningful employment, which in turn allows them to provide for their own families, is just as spiritual and essential to God’s purposes in the world as the pastor who prepares and delivers a sermon a Sunday morning and cares for their congregation.
A proper understanding of Christian vocation thereby serves to address the “Sunday to Monday gap,” wherein some vocational activities are erroneously seen as more spiritual or more important than others. This relates to the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Author and theologian Dr. Amy Sherman argues that human beings were originally intended to be royal priests, given a mandate to rule (engage in God-honoring entrepreneurial activity that allows for the flourishing of others), fill the earth (Gen 1:28), and to then nurture and continue to develop what we have created (Gen 2:15). Sherman argues that Christians should understand themselves as agents of flourishing, called to actively pursue shalom in every corner of society.
In the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) at Gordon College we are engaged in the process of equipping students from all academic majors with the Christian worldview, practical tools and real-world opportunities that will allow them to act as agents of flourishing, both within the church and in all spheres of society. This is a large part of what “preparing the people of God for the work of God” looks like in the 21st century. The relevance of a Christian liberal arts education in today’s world is evident: There is no area of human activity—be it the arts, music, education, politics or science—where God does not intend and call us to become his co-creators for the common good and his glory.